Josh Wiggins stars as a juvenile delinquent who begins to drag his younger brother into harm's way in this gritty, emotionally true family tragedy. (Sundance Institute)
“Hellion” is hard stuff.
A study in the ramifications of tragedy, it follows 13-year-old Jacob (newcomer Josh Wiggins), a budding juvenile delinquent and motorcycle racing hopeful. Since the death of his mother, Jacob has been the guardian of his younger brother, Wes (Deke Garner), while his father Hollis (Aaron Paul) essentially drinks away the pain.
Unfortunately, Jacob’s idea of taking care of Wes includes having him join in on the assorted acts of vandalism he and his buddies enjoy. One of these activities ends with a six-month suspension from school and enrollment in a sort of pre-juvie boot camp for Jacob.
Still, he continues to be the “Hellion” of the film’s title, and eventually authorities come around and remove Wes, placing him in the home of his stable aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis, in perhaps her first role as a stable anything). To the horror of both Jacob and Hollis, Wes thrives with Pam.
Hollis decides he has to pull himself together and win back the right to father his son. Jacob dreams that if he can win a local motorcycle race, somehow the family will come back together.
This is where writer-director Kat Candler, who shows an emotionally true eye throughout the film, makes all the right moves. She never lets “Hellion” become a fable of cheap redemption. In fact, the pain that drives the film seems to be contagious, leading to a harrowing confrontation of messed-up kids.
The acting overall is strong, but Paul, still testing the waters after “Breaking Bad,” is extraordinarily controlled. Hidden behind a full beard, confused as a father and broken as a man, he is both victim and enabler. His is a hell easily believed.
Running time: 94 minutes